The California Surf Festival, held in Oceanside this past weekend, was like a ghost town most of the time.
There was no bustling festival on the streets, no heady atmosphere full of people. Many of the film screenings were nearly empty. Perhaps it was the decently shaped west combo swell that kept people out in the water instead of packed into grungy old theaters. Perhaps it was Oceanside--part strange seaside slum, part military getaway, part sleepy SoCal surf town--that simply couldn't support an event of such ambition.
But there were exceptions. The screening of Billabong's long-awaited film, Still Filthy, managed to pack Oceanside's Brooks Theater, a place that is a dusty relic of a former version of the seaside town. Many came from Billabong to watch the screening.
A line wrapped around in front of the shops on the street. The Surfer Magazine 50th Anniversary tribute on Saturday drew a larger crowd. Quite a few viewers also checked out Rob Machado's The Drifter.
Main sponsor Fuel TV's cameras and crews covered these in detail. Unfortunately, though, some of the best films shown at the festival were viewed only by the same half a dozen people.
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Oceanside was a hefty dose of reality for surfers who are used to the over-the-top events staged in Huntington Beach and elsewhere, like this year's Hurley U.S. Open of Surfing and the massive festival that accompanied it. In Orange County, we benefit from an overwhelming glut of surf culture and industry.
With companies like Volcom, Hurley, RVCA and Quiksilver, and organizations like the Surfrider Foundation and a splattering of action sports media outlets, the land behind the Orange curtain sparkles like some kind of advanced surf utopia. Venture outside, and you can find out how fragile, remote and even neglected surf culture can be.
In Oceanside, surfing seemed stripped down to its barest elements--good waves without crowds, a small but charming museum, some thankless screenings in run down theaters, an absence of high profile vendors, and surprisingly few dedicated fans who traveled some distance to get there.